Duke’s football staff put together a talented recruiting class in the few months following last year’s signing day.
They picked the right guys because, with only a couple of exceptions, the guys who committed stayed true to Duke, giving coach David Cutcliffe and his staff a class ranked in the top 50 nationally for the second consecutive year.
“We had 24 prospects visit us officially,” Cutcliffe said. “We signed 22 of those 24. Part of that is the coaches we have doing a great job with selection and building the right group of people. Part of that is a credit to the integrity and the character of these young men. They knew who they were and where they wanted to be and stayed committed not only to Duke football but too each other.”
Of the 22 players Duke signed on Wednesday, 19 were committed to Duke prior to last July with 14 of them committing prior to last June.
Wide receiver Damond Philyaw-Johnson of Pensacola, Fla,, received strong interest from Ohio State and Auburn last week but signed with Duke.
Running back Deon Jackson of Atlanta became very popular with schools like Notre Dame, North Carolina and Virginia Tech last month even though he, too, had long been committed to Duke. He also followed through and signed his National Letter of Intent to join the Blue Devils.
“Here’s what happened,” Cutcliffe said. “We developed great relationships. Our coaches were incredible. Most importantly this is an incredible group of young men. They became teammates. They are so committed to each other.”
Duke’s signed one four-star recruit, defensive end Drew Jordan of Suwanee, Ga., and 21 three-star players.
Philyaw-Johnson and Jackson highlight that crew on offense. Quarterback Chris Katrenick of Algonquin, Ill., is part of that haul as well. Katrenick enrolled at Duke last month and will take part in spring practice.
The Blue Devils lost quarterback Jack Sears, four-star quarterback from San Clemente, Calif., after he reneged in November on his decision to go to Duke. He signed with Southern Cal instead.
Ellis Brooks, a four-star linebacker from Richmond, Va., is the other Duke commit who wound up elsewhere. After pledging with Duke last summer, he reversed field to re-open his recruitment. He committed to Penn State last Monday.
But, other than those exceptions, the Blue Devils got the guys they wanted. Cutcliffe is confident this group will help the Blue Devils continue their surge, which saw them qualify for bowl games in four consecutive seasons prior to their 4-8 record in 2016.
“This class is, in my opinion, the most physical class we’ve signed since we’ve been here,” said Cutcliffe, who’ll coach his 10th season at Duke this fall.
Duke added four offensive linemen and six defensive linemen (including the 6-2, 255-pound Jordan). On offense, the 6-3, 320-pound Rakavius Chambers stands out while 6-2, 310-pound defensive lineman Axel Nyembwe appears equipped to help immediately.
Defensive lineman Ben Frye comes to Duke after being named first-team all-state in Ohio last season at Dublin, Ohio.
“When we came we said we were going to recruit speed,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve done that but we felt like we needed to change the course of Duke football and become more and more physical. I think the last two years both of these classes -- there have been 17 linemen the last two years. We will see the impact of these two classes going together.”
Duke didn’t announce the signings of any kickers on Wednesday but the Blue Devils hope helps in on the way nevertheless. After A.J. Reed made just 3 of 10 field goals last season, three high school kickers have said they will come to Duke as walk-ons this summer.
Jack Driggers of Tallahassee, Fla., Jackson Hubbard of Highland Park, Tex. and Matthew Cone of Maryville, Tenn. will be part of Duke’s kicking derby heading into the 2017 season.
“We had a tough year and we all are very aware of that,” Cutcliffe said. “I think it’s fair to say you don’t just look within when you have problems. There is plenty of kicking ability with the people we have here, but hopefully we do have some people coming in with the ability to complete. I anticipate that to be an open job.”
Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @swisemanNC
Duke Blue Devils signees
Josh Blackwell, DB, 5-11, 180, Buford, Ga.
Michael Carter II, DB, 5-10, 175, Douglasville, Ga.
Rakavius Chambers, OL, 6-3, 320, Opelika, Ala.
Victor Dimukeje, DL, 6-2, 265, Baltimore, Md.
Ben Frye, DL, 6-3, 255, Dublin, Ohio
Noah Gray, TE, 6-4, 230, Leominster, Mass.
Marvin Hubbard III, RB, 5-9, 185, Tyrone, Ga.
Deon Jackson, RB, 6-0, 210, Atlanta, Ga.
Leonard Johnson, DB, 6-1, 185, Hayden, Ala.
Drew Jordan, DL, 6-2, 255, Suwanee, Ga.
Chris Katrenick, QB, 6-2, 205, Algonquin, Ill
Patrick Leitten, OL, 6-7, 270, Brentwood, Tenn.
Jake Marwede, TE, 6-5, 240, Wilmette, Ill.
Damani Neal, DB, 5-10, 190, Sterling, Va.
Axel Nyembwe, DL, 6-2, 310, Bethesda, Md.
Damond Philyaw-Johnson, WR, 6-1, 180, Pensacola, Fla.
Jacob Rimmer, OL, 6-7, 290, Milan, Tenn
Chris Rumph II, DL, 6-3, 215, Gainesville, Fla.
Derrick Tangelo, DL, 6-2, 290, Potomac, Md.
Will Taylor, OL, 6-3, 280, Snellville, Ga.
Marquis Waters, DB, 6-0, 190, Delray Beach, Fla.
Lummie Young IV, DB, 6-1, 200, Anderson, S.C.